Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Talk to me!

Originally posted by Brenda Coulter at No rules. Just write.

When it comes to contemporary novels, if I don't get dialogue on every page, I'm not going to make it very far into the book. Movies, too. Even a great actor like Tom Hanks couldn't make me like Castaway because there just wasn't enough conversation in the movie. (No, I'm afraid Tom interacting with the volleyball just didn't do it for me.)

When I write, dialogue comes first. It's fun. It's easy. It's what I'm best at. So the bare bones of my books are laid out in conversations between the characters. All the rest gets filled in on subsequent drafts.

Other writers have different strengths. You may shine when it comes to storytelling, but struggle with dialogue. Or you may be brilliant at descriptions, but stink at making your characters talk. But even if you're good at dialogue, most of us could benefit from an occasional tip or reminder. So today I'm pointing you to an excellent post by James Scott Bell at The Charis Connection. He's written an enormously helpful and entertaining piece entirely in dialogue. Here's a sample:

"Tell me about dialogue!"
"If you'll put that gun down, maybe—"
"Sure. You've just helped. Your dialogue, not to mention your pointing a gun at me, adds to the conflict."
"By arguing with me. Put two characters together who have different agendas. That should be revealed in their dialogue. In fact, that is one of the two primary goals of dialogue—to create conflict."
"Oh yeah? What's the other?"
"To reveal character. And you're doing that, too. Our readers will get the idea you're a rather brusque fellow."
"Says you!"
"See? And you don't talk like me. That's another key. Each character should have his or her own way of speaking."
"So I'm doin' somethin' right, is that what yer tellin' me?"
"Almost. I'd avoid overuse of idioms and accents, like 'yer' and 'tellin',' unless they're absolutely necessary. They're too difficult to read. A mere suggestion every now and again is all you need. The reader's imagination will do the rest."
"So I'm NOT doing it right, is that it?"
"Calm down."
"I AM calm!"
"At least you're a man of few words. Dialogue in fiction should be brief."
"What if I've got a lot to say?"
"Heaven help us. But if you must, avoid long speeches. Break the speech up, using other characters' interruptions and—"
"Perfect. And with little actions that demonstrate emotion."
"Like this?"
"Yes. Waving the gun in my face was just right. You're catching on quick."

There's lots more. Head over there and enjoy.

A byline has been added to this post to foil a site which has been stealing my daily writings and passing them off as its own.

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Sue aka MsCreativity said...

I too love dialogue - reading and writing it.

I was interested to learn that when you write it's the dialogue that comes first. I've never thought about writing the conversations first. It's a great idea! When I get back to writing my book (in approx 3 wks and counting!) I'm going to give this a try.

Many thanks for bringing this idea, and James' blog to my attention.

Brenda Coulter said...

You're very welcome. I don't often link to "how to write" articles, but I thought that one was both amusing and instructive. Glad you agree.

Brenda Coulter said...

Oh...and I wish you all the best with your writing project.

Shelley said...

That makes for an interesting writing exercise to try - writing the dialogue first. I'm going to have to give it a try (maybe on a short story or something to start with) and see how it works out.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I love dialogue too...Narrative makes me nuts. If the book is more dialogue than narrative, it's a winner in my book!

Oh, ha...I made a funny...yes I write the dialogue first also!

Josie said...

Oh, dialogue. How I love it! I've often wondered if I could write a book with nothing but dialogue from beginning to end...just a thought!